How Much Food Do You Waste?

If all the food that’s thrown away in three American cities could be saved, it would provide 68 million meals for people who don’t have enough to eat, according to a recent study.

A team of researchers in the United States spent a week looking through the garbage bags of 1,151 people living in Denver, New York and Nashville. The researchers wanted to know what kind of food was being thrown away, how much there was, and why it was being tossed.

By asking these questions, the researchers hoped to find ways to reduce the amount of food we throw away, and to give some of that food to people who need it.

The researchers found that, in the cities they surveyed, more than a kilogram of edible food per person is wasted each week. (Edible food is food you can eat. It doesn’t include things like apple cores, egg shells, or bones from meat.)

Fruits and vegetables were the most common edible foods found in the trash, followed by food leftover from meals. Eggs, bread and milk were also commonly thrown out.

The people taking part in the survey gave several reasons for throwing edible food away. Most said the food was spoiled. Some said they weren’t interested in eating leftovers. A few said the food had passed the “Best Before” date printed on the label.

Some people composted their food garbage. (Composting is a way of turning rotting food into fertilizer for soil.)  But more than half of the food waste ended up in the regular trash and was sent to a dump or landfill. When food rots in landfills, it produces methane, a gas that contributes to global warming.

While using food waste to make compost is better than throwing it in a landfill, the survey found that people who composted their waste didn’t feel as bad about throwing food away. They actually threw away more food than families who didn’t compost.

When food is wasted – by families, restaurants or grocery stores – we are also wasting all of the resources that go into producing that food. That means we are wasting  water, land, energy and labour, as well as the fuel needed to transport food.

In Canada, about $31 billion worth of food ends up in landfills or composters each year. That works out to about $31 per week, or $1,600 per year, that each household spends on food that is wasted. About 45% of Canadians compost their food waste, but not all communities have composting programs, so the rest ends up in landfills.

A lot of food is wasted before it even reaches the grocery store. Some food spoils or is damaged while it is being transported from the farm to the stores. Fruits and vegetables that have bruises or that don’t look attractive enough don’t even get put onto the shelves because most people won’t buy them.

Grocery stores, restaurants and institutions like hospitals also waste a large amount of food. The researchers suggest that grocery stores should donate any food that is still okay to eat to food banks or homeless shelters, instead of throwing it away. Prepared meals from hospitals or restaurants could also be donated to shelters.

Some people have come up with creative ways to reduce food waste:

  • Ubifood is an app that lets bakeries, cafes and restaurants in Montreal upload photos of food they have left at the end of the day. Customers can buy the food online at reduced prices, then pick it up at the restaurant.
  • Loblaws grocery chain sells small or oddly shaped fruits and vegetables under the brand name “Naturally Imperfect.” The items taste just as good as more attractive produce, but cost about 30% less.
  • Food rescue organizations help to redistribute surplus food to people who need it. For example, Second Harvest collects discarded food all along the delivery chain, from farmers to retailers, and passes it on to food banks, shelters, children’s breakfast programs and others. Rock and Wrap It Up! collects leftover prepared food from places like sports arenas, concert halls and movie studios, and gives it to local programs that feed people in need. (see TKN story: Unsold Food At Sports Events Feeds Local Hungry

Related Links

15 Ways to Reduce Food Waste:

Global News video about Second Harvest:

Interesting YouTube video about the Food Waste Campaign Canada 2015:

By Jonathan Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
Do you see yourself as someone who wastes food? If yes, what can you do to reduce the amount of food you throw out? If no, what strategies do you use to keep your amount of food waste to a minimum?

Reading Prompt: Making Inferences /  Interpreting Texts
Today’s article focuses on studies of The United States and Canada. Do you think that food waste is a problem all over the world? Consider why food waste might be different between different nations?

Make inferences about texts using stated and implied ideas from the texts as evidence
 (OME, Reading: 1.5).

Use stated and implied ideas in texts to make inferences and construct meaning
 (OME, Reading: 1.5).

Develop and explain interpretations of increasingly complex or difficult texts using stated and implied ideas from the texts to support their interpretations 
(OME, Reading: 1.5).

Language Feature: Paragraph Length
Today’s article is made up of many very short paragraphs. Most paragraphs in today’s article contain 1-3 sentences. How does this impact how you read and what you remember? Why might an author choose to use short paragraphs instead of lengthy ones?



For another great in-class activity based on this article, click on the box, below.

Or go to the “Fake News Resources” tab on our home page and select “Media Literacy Activities.”

(Grades 4-6 Science and Language Arts) “How Much Food do you waste?”